Operation Ladbroke, 9-10 July 1943

Operation Ladbroke, 9-10 July 1943

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Operation Ladbroke, 9-10 July 1943

Operation Ladbroke (9-10 July 1943) was a British airborne operation which captured the Ponte Grande bridge on the southern approach to Syracuse, despite a rather scattered landing.

The target of the operation was the Ponte Grande bridge, a twin-span bridge that crossed the River Anapo and the Mammaiabica Canal on the southern approach to Syracuse. It would be carried out by the 1st Airlanding Brigade, which would become the first Allied unit to land on Sicily, late on 9 July.

Even getting the gliders to North Africa posed a challenge. Most of the troops were to be carried in American WACO gliders, which were already in theatre, but heavier equipment needed the British Horsa glider. In the end a force of Horsas was towed directly to North Africa from England (Operation Beggar), a very challenging flight across the Bay of Biscay, around Spain and Portugal to Sale in North Africa. The gliders would them move east in two stages to Tunisia, ready for the operation itself.

A series of training operations were carried out once the gliders were in place. Exercise Adam, of 14 June 1943, involved 56 WACO gliders and men from the South Staffordshire Regiment, sappers, part of the 181st Airlanding Field Ambulance and part of the Brigade HQ. The aim of this exercise was to test out the loading and ground marshalling systems as well as to try a short tow and landing. The exercise was carried out without any casualties, although six gliders had to land short of the landing zone.

On 15 June the 1st Battalion, The Border Regiment, carried out Exercise Vin Blanc, a dry run using lorries instead of gliders.

This was followed by Exercise Eve on 20 June, also involving the Border Regiment, but this time with their gliders. This time more gliders were involved and two types of tugs. Once again the exercises was seen as a success, although twelve gliders missed their target.

Exercise Eve 2 followed on the night of 20-21 June, and saw eleven out of twelve gliders make a successful night landing.

On 27 June the 1st Airborne Division and its aircraft began to move forward to the Tunisian airfields that would be used for the operation. One glider was lost during this operation after the tail came off in flight, with no survivors. 81 of the 84 WACOs involved made the move safely. Despite this setback the operation saw 1,200 fully equipped troops moved over the Atlas Mountains, the largest airborne troop movement yet carried out by the British and good practice for the operation itself.

The operation involved 133 combinations (tow planes and gliders). The two planes included 105 C-47s from the 51st Wing, NAAF Troop Carrier Command. The 143 gliders were made up of 135 Wacos and eight Horsas, flown to Africa during Operation Beggar in order to allow heavier weapons to be carried in a single load. The gliders were piloted by men from the 1st Battalion, Glider Pilot Regiment. The gliders carried 1,600 men from the British 1st Airlanding Brigade, 1st Airborne Division.

The operation was planned in three phases. First, two companies from the 2nd Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment, would land in eight Horsas close to the bridge, which they would capture by 2315 hours on 9 July. Second, the main force would land on their landing zones and advance to the bridge, arriving by 0115 hours. Third, the entire 2nd Battalion of the South Staffs would defend the bridge, while the Border Regiment would cross over at 0145 and take Syracuse by 0530. This plan would soon proved to be dramatically over-ambitious.

Four landing zones were selected. LZ 1 and LZ 2 were on the western end of the Maddalena Peninsula, a few miles to the south of the bridge. This was an area of orchards and fields. LZ 3 NORTH was west of the bridge, in the area between a canal and the river. LZ 3 SOUTH was to the south-west of the bridge, south of the river. The two companies that were to seize the bridge were to land on LZ 3, the rest of the force on LZ 1 and LZ 2.

The aircraft flew east from Tunisia to Malta and then turned north to approach Sicily. This route was chosen to avoid flying over the invasion fleet and its trigger happy AA gunners, who had orders to fire on all aircraft, and to provide a fixed navigation point as close to Sicily as possible. The landing zones themselves caused a great deal of concern. They were surrounded by stone walls, trees and other obstacles. No pathfinders were going in to mark them, so the glider pilots would have to try and identify them in the dark, after being released out at sea. The operation was expected to take place in bright moonlight, which would allow the glider pilots to see the Sicilian coast and work out their positions from that. The Horsas were to be towed by aircraft from No.38 Wing, RAF, the same pilots who had towed them from England. The WACOs would be towed by the less experienced pilots from the 51st Troop Carrier Command.

The gliders and tugs began to take off on the afternoon of 9 July. Eleven gliders suffered problems early on the trip that forced them to land in Tunisia. Two WACOs and a Horsa lost their tow out at sea and crashed into the Mediterranean. Real problems began as the force approached Sicily. The Italians and Germans had been placed on full alert, and the aircraft were picked out by searchlights and fired on. Some of the pilots took evasive action that got them out of the lights, but meant they had no chance of finding the landing zones. The flotilla had already become badly disrupted on the flight north from Malta, as the aircraft ran into a headwind and cloud cover that hid the moon, removing the light that the operation plan relied on. As the force approached Sicily many of the gliders were released too soon, or at too low an altitude, and were unable to reach land. In the confusion one glider even ended up landing on a fighter airfield on Malta while still believing they were on Sicily!

Eventually the fate of all of the gliders was traced. Of the original force of 144 aircraft, 56 reached Sicily, with only 12 on or close to their landing zone. 73 gliders came down into the sea, with the loss of 252 men. At first it was believed that over 500 men had drowned, but half later turned up after being rescued by various ships and scattered across the Mediterranean. Many of the senior commanders for the operation were knocked out at this stage - General George Chatterton, commander of the 1st Airborne Division, came down in the sea and had to be rescued later, as did Brigadier Pip Hicks, command of the 1st Airlanding Brigade.

The surviving gliders were scattered across a large area of Sicily. Many of the surviving troops took no further part in Ladbroke, but they were able to cause confusion behind enemy lines, contributing to the success of the overall invasion.

The two companies from the South Staffs allocated to the capture of the bridges had mixed fortunes. A Company lost three of its four gliders at sea. Fourteen men drowned from one glider, all of 10 Platoon on another and two from the third. No.8 Platoon landed a few miles from the landing zone, and spent the first night marching to its objective, high ground to the south of the bridge.

All four of C Company’s gliders reached Sicily, and two even landed on LZ 3. Of the two that missed the landing zone, one landed close to an Italian machine gun position and fifteen of the thirty-one men onboard were killed. The rest escaped, but didn’t rejoin the unit in time for Ladbroke. The other landed six miles to the east of the landing zone, but didn’t reach the bridge until Eighth Army troops had already arrived. Of the two gliders that did reach the landing zone, one was hit by enemy fire and exploded. No.15 Platoon had arrived intact, leaving the coup-de-main force with only 30 of the original 254 men. Lt Withers, the commander of the platoon, put in place a two pronged attack on the bridge, and remarkably managed to capture it intact! Despite all of the problems, the first part of Operation Ladbroke had actually succeeded.

The next problem was how to defend the bridge against the inevitable counterattack. Luckily for the defenders an order to move four mobile formations to Syracuse and the bridge never reached its intended targets. Instead the first Axis reinforcements to reach the bridge were twelve Italian soldiers in a single truck, just before midnight. They were quickly dealt with. At 0430 eight men from the brigade HQ defence platoon reached the bridge. Soon afterwards three Italian armoured cars attacked, posing a real threat to the lightly armed South Staffs, but they retreated after their commander was killed. At 0500 more reinforcements arrived, this time sixteen engineers from the 9th Field Company (Airborne) RE. Just before dawn another party, commanded by Lt Col Arthur Walch reached the bridge, and he took command. By 0700 on 10 July 7 officers and 80 men had reached the bridge. The defenders lacked heavy weapons and were under increasingly heavy mortar fire. They had four Bren guns, one 2-in light mortar with smoke rounds and one 3-in medium mortar with a handful of HE rounds. The next counterattack as made by two companies of Italian naval infantry, but this was also repulsed.

The first serious attack began at around 1130, when a battalion from the Italian 75th Infantry Regiment arrived with an artillery battery. The defenders came under increasingly heavy artillery and mortar fire until 1220 when the artillery fire stopped and the mortar fire increased. At 1245, with a major infantry attack clearly coming, and no sign of reinforcements and no contact with the rest of the Allied army, Walch ordered his troops to withdraw to less exposed positions east of the bridge. The Italians were able to get closer to the bridge, and inflicted heavy casualties on the defenders. By 1515 only 20 unwounded troops remained. Soon afterwards, with their ammo exhausted, the defenders were forced to surrender (although Walsh and seven men escaped).

The defenders had almost managed to hold on for long enough. At 1615 the leading troops from the Royal Scots Fusiliers reached the bridge at the head of the 17th Infantry Brigade, which had landed from the sea. They were met by Walsh, and quickly recaptured the bridge. The Italians around the bridge fled or surrendered, and most of the captured airborne forces were rescued within an hour and a half of having been captured. Two hours later Syracuse fell to the 17th Infantry Brigade, so despite all of the problems, Operation Ladbroke, the first large scale British airborne operation of the war, had ended in success.

Kairouan Airfield

Kairouan Airfield is an abandoned military airfield in Tunisia, which is located approximately 11 km south-southeast of Kairouan, 126 km south of Tunis. It was a major Troop Carrier unit base of the United States Army Air Force Twelfth Air Force during the North African Campaign. Known units assigned were:

    , July–September 1943 , 21 June-1 September 1943, C-47 Skytrain , 28 June-26 July 1943, C-47 Skytrain , 16 June-23 August 1943, C-47 Skytrain , 26 June-1 September 1943, C-47 Skytrain

From Kairouan, Operation Ladbroke, the British glider landing near Syracuse, Sicily took place on the night of 9 July 1943 as part of the invasion of Sicily. On the night of 9/10 July 1943 a force of 144 Waco gliders, towed by US C-47, and British Handley Page Halifax and Albemarle tug aircraft, took off to take part in Operation Ladbroke – the first Allied attempt at a mass glider landing in World War II. The plan was to place a large invasion force on the ground near the town of Syracuse, secure the Ponte Grande Bridge and then take control of the city itself, including its strategically vital docks, as a prelude to the full-scale invasion of Sicily.

In addition, the Ninth Air Force 324th Fighter Group used the airfield in June 1943, flying P-40 Warhawks from the airfield.

By the end of September 1943, the C-47 groups had moved to Sicily and Kairouan was dismantled and abandoned. Today, one (possibly two) main runways can be seen in aerial photography, along with traces of taxiways and dispersal pads.

Survivors of the Battle

The other case of a lost photograph concerns a group photo which glider pilot H N ‘Andy’ Andrews says was taken after the battle. Andrews flew Waco 10 during Operation Ladbroke, barely reaching land next to an Italian searchlight, way south of the LZs. He carried some senior officers, including Colonel ‘Jonah’ Jones, who next day led the men in a successful attack on an enemy howitzer battery. As a result Andrews did not reach the bridge until after the battle for it was over.

In his book ‘So You Wanted to Fly, Eh?’, Andrews wrote how “Richard N Clark and Jack Battersby in Waco 67” took part in the battle for the bridge, were captured and then released. “Later they took a photograph with a ‘liberated’ camera showing a group of survivors it is believed that it is the only photograph still available.” Andrews did not include the photograph in his book, and his son says it is not in his father’s papers. The photo seems to have about 50 people in it, in four rows. Andrews identifies many, but not all of them. Many names are those of Operation Ladbroke glider pilots, including: Barclay, Scott, Landsell, Cairns, Morgan, Leadbetter, Hay, Coates, Barnwell, Hill, Nutton, Cushing, Reddish, Clarke, Smith, Stewart.

It would be sad if these unique images were lost to the history of this remarkable operation. I would like to use them in a book I may write about Operation Ladbroke, and would happily pay an appropriate licence fee. If you can help, please send me a message using the “Leave a Reply” section below, and I will send a reply to your email address. Neither your comment nor your email address will be published.

USAF Airborne Operations: World War II And Korean War

Publication date 1962 Usage Public Domain Mark 1.0 Topics United States. Air Force, Military Operations, Strategy And Tactics, United States. Army Air Forces, World War, 1939-1945 -- Aerial Operations, American, Korean War, 1950-1953 -- Aerial Operations, American, World War, 1939-1945, Korean War, 1950-1953, Airborne troops Publisher [Washington?] USAF Historical Division, Liaison Office Collection folkscanomy_history folkscanomy additional_collections Language English

CONTENTS I. Airborne Assault Operations in North Africa, November 1942 1 II. Airborne Operations in Sicily, 9-14 July 1943 9 Husky I, 9-10 July 1943 10 Husky II, 11-12 July 1943 12 Ladbroke, 9-10 July 1943 13 Fustian, 13-14 July 1943 16 Conclusions 18 III. Airdrop at Nadzab, Nev Guinea, 5-6 September 1943 23 IV. Airborne Operations in Burma, 5 March to 17 May 1944 29 Background for Operation Thursday 29 Command and Control 32 Operation Thursday's Initial Phase, 5-11 March 1944 33 Operation Thursday's Second Phase, 22 March to 12 April 1944 35 Enemy Opposition to Phases One and Two 36 Ground Operations, 5 March to 17 May 37 Evaluation 38 V. Airborne Invasion of Normandy, 6 June 1944 41 VI. The Airborne Invasion of Holland, 17-26 September 1944 55 VII. Airdrop on Corregidor, 16 February 1945 73 VIII. Airborne Assault Across the Rhine, 24 March 1945 79 IX. Airborne Operations at Sukchon-Sunchon, Korea, 20-23 October 1950 95 X. Airborne Operations ex Munsan-ni, Korea, 23-27 March 1951 105 NOTES 111 GLOSSARY 119 MAPS North Africa 1 Air Routes for Sicily Operations 9 Northeast New Guinea 23 North Burma 29 Air Routes for Normandy Operations 4l Air Routes for Holland Operations 55 Corregidor 73 Assault Area for Varsity 79 Sukchon-Sunchon Area, Korea 95 Munsan-ni Area, Korea 105 TABLES Forces Employed in Sicilian Airborne Operations 20 Experiences of Troop Carriers in Sicilian Airborne Operations 21 Casualties in Sicilian Airborne Operations 22 Operation Thursday, Summary of Transportation Operations 40 Paratroop Drop of IX Troop Carrier Command, Normandy - June 1944 Glider Operations of IX Troop Carrier Command, Normandy - June 1944 Resupply Operations of IX Troop Carrier Command, Normandy - June 1944 53 Operation Market, IX Troop Carrier Command—17-30 Sep 44 69 Operation Market, RAF 38 and 46 Groups —17-25 Sep 44 70 Operation Market, Eighth Air Force Resupply Operations, 18 Sep 44 71 Operation Market, Casualties— 17-30 Sep 44 72 Operation Varsity, 24 Mar 45 92 Casualties in Operation Varsity, 24 Mar 45 93 Operation Varsity Chain of Command, 24 Mar 4-5 94 Sukchon-Sunchon Airdrop, 20-23 Oct 50 102 Sukchon-Sunchon Airdrop of Heavy Equipment and Supplies, 20-23 Oct 50 103 Airdrop at Munsan-ni, 23-27 Mar 51 110 Digitized by http://www.afhso.af.mil/

The original study was organized as a collaborative effort by Lee Bowen, and others

Aftermath [ edit | edit source ]

US soldiers looking at a dead German pilot and his wrecked aircraft near Gela, Sicily on 12 July 1943

The Sicily campaign had cost the Allies nearly 25,000 casualties. The U.S. 7th Army lost 8,781 men (2,237 killed or missing, 5,946 wounded, and 598 captured) while the British 8th Army suffered 11,843 casualties (2,062 killed or missing, 7,137 wounded and 2,644 captured). In addition, the U.S. Navy lost 546 killed or missing and 484 wounded and the Royal Navy lost 314 killed or missing, 411 wounded and 4 captured. The USAAF also reported 28 killed, 88 missing and 41 wounded. 𖏲] Canadian forces had suffered 2,310 casualties, including 562 killed, 1,664 wounded, and 84 captured. 𖏲] 𖏳]

According to historians Samuel W. Mitcham and Friedrich Von Stauffenberg, German units lost about 20,000 killed, wounded or captured, 𖏲] although military historian Manfred Messerschmidt [et al.] report that the German forces lost 4,678 men killed, 5,532 captured and 13,500 wounded, making up a total of 23,710 German casualties. 𖏴] Italian military losses are reported to be 4,325 killed, 32,500 wounded and 116,681 captured Ε] and authors widely concur with the number of Italians believed to be taken prisoner to be around 100,000. 𖏵] 𖏶] 𖏷] In 2007, Mitcham and Von Stauffenberg raised this estimate to 147,000. Δ] An earlier Canadian study of the Allied invasion, estimated the total number of Italian and Germans prisoners taken prisoner in Sicily to be around 100,000. 𖏳]

The Allied command was forced to improve interservice coordination, particularly with regard to use of airborne forces. After several misdrops and the deadly "friendly fire" incident of 11 July, increased training and some tactical changes kept the paratroopers in the war. Indeed, a few months later, the initial assessment of the Operation Overlord plan included a request for four airborne divisions. [ citation needed ]

After the capture of Biscari airfield on 14 July, American soldiers from the 180th Regimental Combat Team, 45th Division 𖏸] executed 74 Italian and two German prisoners of war during two separate massacres at Biscari airfield between July and August 1943. 𖏹] Sergeant Horace T. West and Captain John T. Compton were each charged for committing a war crime West was convicted and sentenced to life in prison and stripped of rank but was released as a private. Compton was charged with killing 40 prisoners in his charge but was acquitted and transferred to another regiment where he died a year later in the fighting in Italy. 𖏺]


The first counterattack on the bridge was by two companies of Italian sailors, who were repulsed by the British. As the Italians responded to the Allied landings, they gathered more troops and brought up artillery and mortars to bombard the Allied-controlled Pont Grande Bridge. [22] The British defenders came under attack from the Italians while the expected British 5th Infantry Division relief did not appear at 10:00 as planned. [28] At 11:30 the Italian 385th Coastal Battalion arrived at the bridge, followed soon afterward by the 1st Battalion, 75th (Napoli) Infantry Regiment. The Italians were positioned to attack the bridge from three sides. By 14:45 there were only fifteen British troops defending the bridge that had not been killed or wounded. At 15:30, with their ammunition consumed, the British stopped fighting. Some men on the south side of the bridge escaped into the countryside, but the rest became prisoners of war. [22] With the bridge back in Italian hands, the first unit from 5th Infantry Division, the 2nd Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers, of 17th Infantry Brigade, arrived at the bridge at 16:15 and mounted a successful counter-attack, [28] which had been made possible by the prior removal of demolition charges from the bridge, preventing its destruction by the Italians. [28] The survivors from the 1st Airlanding Brigade took no further part in the fighting and were withdrawn back to North Africa on 13 July. [29] During the landings, the losses by 1st Airlanding Brigade were the most severe of all British units involved. [30] The casualties amounted to 313 killed and 174 missing or wounded. [29] Fourteen accompanying glider pilots were killed, and eighty-seven were missing or wounded. [29]

Elsewhere, about 150 men landed at Cape Murro di Porco and captured a radio station. Based on a warning of imminent glider landings transmitted by the station's previous occupants, the local Italian commander ordered a counter-attack but his troops failed to receive his message. The scattered nature of the landings now worked in the Allies' favour as they were able to cut all telephone wires in the immediate area. [23] The glider carrying the brigade deputy commander, Colonel O. L. Jones, landed beside an Italian coastal artillery battery at daylight the staff officers and radio operators attacked and destroyed the battery's five guns and their ammunition dump. [26] Other isolated groups of Allied soldiers tried to aid their comrades, assaulting Italian defences and targeting reinforcements. [27]

The British platoon then dismantled some demolition charges that had been fitted to the bridge and dug-in to wait for reinforcement or relief. [23] Another Horsa landed roughly 200 yards (180 m) from the bridge but exploded on landing, killing all on board. Three of the other Horsas carrying the coup-de-main party landed within 2 miles (3.2 km) of the bridge—their occupants eventually finding their way to the site. [25] Reinforcements began to arrive at the bridge, but by 06:30 they numbered only eighty-seven men. [22]

Only one Horsa with a platoon of infantry from the Staffords landed near the bridge. Its commander, Lieutenant Withers, divided his men into two groups, one of which swam across the river and took up position on the opposite bank. Thereafter the bridge was captured following a simultaneous assault from both sides. The Italian defenders from the 120th Coastal Infantry Regiment abandoned their pillboxes on the north bank. [23] [nb 3]

On 9 July 1943, a contingent of 2,075 British troops, along with seven jeeps, six anti-tank guns and ten mortars, boarded their gliders in Tunisia and took off at 18:00, bound for Sicily. [20] En route they encountered strong winds, poor visibility and at times were subjected to anti-aircraft fire. [20] To avoid gunfire and searchlights, pilots of the towing aircraft climbed higher or took evasive action. In the confusion surrounding these manoeuvres, some gliders were released too early and sixty-five of them crashed into the sea, drowning around 252 men. [20] Of the remainder, only twelve landed in the right place. Another fifty-nine landed up to 25 miles (40 km) away while the remainder were either shot down or failed to release and returned to Tunisia. [20]

Allies land on Sicily

On July 10, 1943, the Allies begin their invasion of Axis-controlled Europe with landings on the island of Sicily, off mainland Italy. Encountering little resistance from the demoralized Sicilian troops, the British 8th Army under Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery came ashore on the southeast of the island, while the U.S. 7th Army under General George S. Patton landed on Sicily’s south coast. Within three days, 150,000 Allied troops were ashore.

Italian leader Benito Mussolini envisioned building Fascist Italy into a new Roman Empire, but a string of military defeats in World War II effectively made his regime a puppet of its stronger Axis partner, Germany. By the spring of 1943, opposition groups in Italy were uniting to overthrow Mussolini and make peace with the Allies, but a strong German military presence in Italy threatened to resist any such action.

Meanwhile, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler knew that an Allied invasion of Nazi-controlled Europe was imminent, but because Germany’s vast conquests stretched from Greece to France, Hitler was unable to concentrate his forces in any one place. In an elaborate plot to divert German forces away from Italy, a British submarine off Spain released the corpse of an Englishman wearing the uniform of a British major and carrying what appeared to be official Allied letters describing plans for an invasion of Greece. The body washed ashore, and the letters were sent by the Spanish to the German high command, who reinforced their units in Greece. The Axis had only 10 Italian divisions and two German panzer units on Sicily when Allied forces attacked in the early-morning hours of July 10.

First to land were American and British paratroopers and glider-borne troops, and at dawn thousands of amphibious troops came ashore. Coastal defenses manned by disaffected Sicilian troops collapsed after limited resistance, and the Anglo-Americans moved quickly to capture Sicily’s southern cities. Within three days, the Allies had cleared the southeastern part of the island. In a pincer movement aimed at Messina in the northeast, the British 8th Army began moving up the southeast coast of the island, with the U.S. 7th Army moving east across the north coast. The Allies hoped to trap the Axis forces before they could retreat to the Italian mainland. In the so-called “Race to Messina,” Montgomery’s advance up the southeast coast was slowed by German reinforcements, but Patton and the U.S. 7th Army moved quickly along the north coast, capturing Palermo, the Sicilian capital, on July 22.

In Rome, the Allied invasion of Sicily, a region of the kingdom of Italy since 1860, led to the collapse of Mussolini’s government. Early in the morning of July 25, he was forced to resign by the Fascist Grand Council and was arrested later that day. On July 26, Marshal Pietro Badoglio assumed control of the Italian government. The new government promptly entered into secret negotiations with the Allies, despite the presence of numerous German troops in Italy.

Back in Sicily, Montgomery and Patton advanced steadily toward Messina, prompting the Germans to begin a withdrawal of Axis forces to the mainland. Some 100,000 German and Italian troops were evacuated before Patton won the race to Messina on August 17. Montgomery arrived a few hours later. The Allies suffered 23,000 casualties in their conquest of Sicily. German forces sustained 30,000 casualties, and the Italians 135,000. In addition, some 100,000 Axis troops were captured.

On September 3, Montgomery’s 8th Army began an invasion of the Italian mainland at Calabria, and the Italian government agreed to surrender to the Allies. By the terms of the agreement, the Italians would be treated with leniency if they aided the Allies in expelling the Germans from Italy. Later that month, Mussolini was rescued from a prison in the Abruzzo Mountains by German commandos and was installed as leader of a Nazi puppet state in northern Italy.

In October, the Badoglio government declared war on Germany, but the Allied advance up Italy proved a slow and costly affair. Rome fell in June 1944, at which point a stalemate ensued as British and American forces threw most of their resources into the Normandy invasion. In April 1945, a new major offensive began, and on April 28 Mussolini was captured by Italian partisans and summarily executed. German forces in Italy surrendered on May 1, and six days later all of Germany surrendered.


On 9 July 1943, a contingent of 2,075 British troops, along with seven jeeps, six anti-tank guns and ten mortars, boarded their gliders in Tunisia and took off at 18:00 bound for Sicily. [ 20 ] En route they encountered strong winds, poor visibility and at times were subjected to anti-aircraft fire. [ 20 ] To avoid gunfire and searchlights, pilots of the towing aircraft climbed higher or took evasive action. In the confusion surrounding these manoeuvres, some gliders were released too early and sixty-five of them crashed into the sea, drowning around 252 men. [ 20 ] Of the remaining gliders only twelve landed at the correct landing-zones. Another fifty-nine landed up to 25 miles (40 km) away while the remainder were either shot down or failed to release and returned to Tunisia. [ 20 ]

Only one Horsa with a platoon of infantry from the Staffords landed near the bridge. Its commander Lieutenant Withers divided his men into two groups then swam across the river, one of which took up position on the opposite bank. Thereafter the bridge was captured following a simultaneous assault from both sides. The Italian defenders from the 120th Coastal Infantry Regiment abandoned their pillboxes on the north bank. [ 23 ] [ nb 3 ] The platoon then dismantled demolition charges that had been fitted to the bridge and dug in to wait for reinforcement or relief. [ 23 ] Another Horsa landed roughly 200 yards (180 m) from the bridge but exploded on landing, killing all on board. Three of the other Horsas carrying the coup-de-main party landed within 2 miles (3.2 km) of the bridge—their occupants eventually finding their way to the site. [ 25 ] Reinforcements began to arrive at the bridge but by 06:30 they numbered only eighty-seven men. [ 22 ]

Elsewhere, about 150 men landed at Cape Murro di Porco and captured a radio station. Based on a warning of imminent glider landings transmitted by the station's previous occupants, the local Italian commander ordered a counter-attack but his troops failed to receive his message. The scattered nature of the landings now worked in the Allies' favour as they were able to cut all telephone wires in the immediate area. [ 23 ] The glider carrying the brigade deputy commander Colonel O.L Jones landed beside an Italian coastal artillery battery, and at daylight the staff officers and radio operators attacked and destroyed the battery's five guns and their ammunition dump. [ 26 ] Other isolated groups of Allied men tried to aid their comrades, assaulting Italian defences and targeting reinforcements. [ 27 ]

The first counter attack at the bridge was by two companies of Italian sailors, who were repulsed by the British. As Italians responded to the Allied landings, they gathered more troops and brought up artillery and mortars to bombard the Allied-controlled Pont Grande Bridge. [ 22 ] The British defenders on the bridge came under attack from the Italians while the expected 5th Infantry Division relief did not appear at 10:00 as planned. [ 28 ] At 11:30 the Italian 385th Coastal Battalion arrived at the bridge followed soon after by the 1st Battalion, 75th (Napoli) Infantry Regiment. The Italians were positioned to attack the bridge from three sides. By 14:45 there were only fifteen British troops defending the bridge that had not been killed or wounded. At 15:30, with their ammunition consumed, the British stopped fighting. Some men on the south side of the bridge escaped into the countryside, but the rest became prisoners of war, captured by the Italians. [ 22 ] With the bridge back in Italian hands, the first unit from 5th Infantry Division the Royal Scots Fusiliers arrived at the bridge at 16:15 and mounted a successful counter-attack, [ 28 ] which had been made possible by the prior removal of demolition charges from the bridge, preventing its destruction by the Italians. [ 28 ] The survivors from the 1st Airlanding Brigade took no further part in the fighting and were withdrawn back to North Africa on 13 July. [ 29 ] During the landings, the losses by 1st Airlanding Brigade were the most severe of all British units involved. [ 30 ] The casualties amounted to 313 killed and 174 missing or wounded. [ 29 ] Fourteen accompanying glider pilots were killed, and eighty-seven were missing or wounded. [ 29 ]


Allied landings

Airborne landing

Two British and two American attacks by airborne forces were carried out just after midnight on the night of 9–10 July, as part of the invasion. The American paratroopers consisted largely of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division, making their first combat drop.

The British landings were preceded by the 21st Independent Parachute Company (Pathfinders), who were to mark landing zones for the paratroopers who were intending to seize the Ponte Grande, the bridge over the River Anape just south of Syracuse, and hold it until the British 5th Infantry Division arrived from the beaches at Cassibile, some 7 miles (11 km) to the south. [40] British Glider infantry from the 1st Airlanding Brigade were to seize landing zones inland. [41]

Strong winds of up to 45 miles per hour (72 km/h) [42] blew the troop-carrying aircraft off course and the US force was scattered widely over south-east Sicily between Gela and Syracuse. By 14 July, about two-thirds of the 505th regiment had managed to concentrate, [43] half the US paratroopers failed to reach their rallying points. The British air-landing troops fared little better, with only 12 of the 147 gliders landing on target and 69 crashing into the sea. [44] Nevertheless, the scattered airborne troops maximized their opportunities, attacking patrols and creating confusion wherever possible. A platoon of the South Staffordshire Regiment, who had landed on target, captured Ponte Grande and fought off counterattacks. More men rallied to the sound of shooting, and by 18:30 89 men were holding the bridge. [45] By 11:30, a battalion of the Italian 75th Infantry Regiment from the 54 Infantry Division Napoli arrived with some artillery. [46] The British force held out until about 1530 hours, when they were forced to surrender to Colonel Francesco Ronco’s 75th Infantry Regiment [47] only 45 minutes before the leading elements of 5th Infantry Division arrived from the south. [46]

In spite of these mishaps, the widespread landing of airborne troops had an overall positive effect as small isolated units, acting on their own initiative, attacked vital points and created widespread panic. [48]

Seaborne landings

The strong wind also made matters difficult for the amphibious landings but also ensured surprise as many of the defenders had assumed that no one would attempt a landing in such poor conditions. [48] Landings were made in the early hours of 10 July on 26 main beaches spread along 105 miles (169 km) of the southern and eastern coasts of the island between the town of Licata Torre di Gaffe and Mollarella beach in the west, and Cassibile in the east, [49] with British and Canadian forces in the east and Americans toward the west. This constituted the largest amphibious operation of World War II in terms of size of the landing zone and the number of divisions put ashore on the first day. [50] The Italian defensive plan did not contemplate a pitched battle on the beaches and so the landings themselves were somewhat of an anti-climax. [51]

More trouble was experienced from the difficult weather conditions (especially on the southern beaches) and unexpected hidden offshore sandbars than from the Coastal divisions. Some troops landed in the wrong place, in the wrong order and as much as six hours behind schedule [52] but the weakness of the defensive response allowed the Allied force to make up lost time. [48] Nevertheless, several Italian coastal units fought well, the 429th Coastal Battalion tasked with defending Gela, losing 45 percent of its men and the attacking US Ranger Battalion losing several men to mines, machine-gun and cannon fire. [53] Gruppo Tattito Carmito tasked with defending Malati Bridge, defeated a Royal Marines Commando Battalion on 13 July. On 14 July, Tactical Group “Carmito”, attacked the Commandos with the help of three German tanks and paratroops and the 246th Coastal Battalion defeated British attempts to capture Augusta on the night of 11–12 July. [54]

In the US 1st Infantry Division sector at Gela, there was an Italian division-sized counterattack where the dispersed 505th Parachute Regiment were supposed to have been. Tiger tanks of the Hermann Göring Panzer Division, which had been due to advance with the 4 Infantry Division Livorno were late. [55] On highways 115 and 117 during 10 July, Italian tanks of the “Niscemi” Armoured Combat Group and “Livorno” infantry, nearly reached the Allied position at Gela but gunfire from the destroyer USS Shubrick and the light cruiser USS Boise, destroyed several tanks and dispersed the attacking infantry battalion. The 3rd Battalion, 34th Regiment, “Livorno” Infantry Division, composed mainly of conscripts, made a daylight attack in the Gela beachhead two days later, with infantry and armour of the Hermann Göring Panzer Division but was repulsed. [56]

By the morning of 10 July the Joint Task Force Operations Support System Force captured the port of Licata, at the cost of nearly 100 killed and wounded in the American 3rd Infantry Division, and the division beat off a counterattack from the 538th Coastal Defence Battalion. By 11:30 A.M. Licata was firmly in American hands and the 3rd Infantry had lost fewer than one hundred men. Salvage parties had already partially cleared the harbor,and shortly after noon Truscott and his staff came ashore and set up headquarters at Palazzo La Lumia. About that time the 538th Coastal Defense Battalion, which had been deployed as a tactical reserve, launched a counter-attack. By the evening of 10 July, the seven Allied assault divisions—three British, three American and one Canadian—were well established ashore, the port of Syracuse had been captured and fears of an Axis air onslaught had proved unfounded. [57]

The preparatory bombing of the previous weeks had greatly weakened the Axis air capability and the heavy Allied presence of aircraft operating from Malta, Gozo and Pantelleria kept most of the Axis attempts at air attack at bay. Some attacks on the first day of the invasion got through, and German aircraft sank the landing ship LST-313 and minesweeper USS Sentinel. Italian Stukas sank the destroyer USS Maddox [58] and the Indian hospital shipTalamba and in the following days Axis aircraft damaged or sank several more warships, transport vessels and landing craft. [59] Italian Stukas—named Picchiatello in Italian service—and Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 torpedo-bombers coordinated their attacks with the German Junkers Ju 87 and Ju 88 bomber units. As part of the seaborne landings south at Agnone, some 400 men of Lieutenant-Colonel John Durnford-Slater’s 3 Commando Brigadecaptured Malati Bridge on 13 July, only to lose possession of the bridge when the 4th Self-Propelled Artillery Battalion and the Italian 53rd Motorcycle Company counter-attacked. [60] [61] The Royal Marines lost 28 killed, 66 wounded and 59 captured or missing. [62]


Alexander’s plan was to firstly establish his forces on a line between Licata in the west and Catania in the east before embarking on operations to reduce the rest of the island. Key to this was capturing ports to facilitate the build up of his forces and the capture of airfields. Eighth Army’s tasks were therefore to capture the Pachino airfield on Cape Passero and the port of Syracuse before moving northwards to take the ports of Augusta and Catania. Their objectives also included the landing fields around Gerbini, on the Catania plain. The 7th Army’s main objectives included capturing the port of Licata and the airfields of Ponte Olivo, Biscari and Comiso. It was then to prevent enemy reserves from moving eastward against the Eighth Army’s left flank. [63]

According to Axis plans, Kampfgruppe Schmalz (Colonel Wilhelm Schmalz), in conjunction with the 54th Infantry Division Napoli (Major-General Giulio Cesare Gotti-Porcinari), was to counter-attack an Allied landing on the Augusta–Syracuse coast. On 10 July, Colonel Schmalz had been unable to contact the Italian division and had proceeded alone towards Syracuse. Unknown to Schmalz, a battalion of 18 Renault R35 tanks, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Massimo d’Andretta from the Napoli Division, broke through the positions held by the 2ndWiltshire and were only stopped by anti-tank fire in the Priolo and Floridia suburbs of Syracuse. [64] [65]

On the night of 11/12 July, the Royal Navy attempted to capture Augusta but the 246th Coastal Battalion repelled the British landing force that was supported by three destroyers. On 12 July, several Italian units took up rearguard positions and covered the withdrawal of Kampfgruppe Schmalz and the Hermann Göring Division. The U.S. advance toward Cancinatii was temporarily held up by a group of Semovente da 90/53, as Kampfgruppe Schmalz retreated toward Catania. The 246th Coastal Brigade retreated to strong points at Cozzo Telegrafo and Acquedolci. The 76th Infantry Regiment of the Napoli Division covered the left flank of Kampfgruppe Schmalz which withdrew toward Lentini and then withdrew to Palermo The Hermann Göring Division eventually withdrew from the Piano Lupo area toward Caltagirone and the Livorno Division withdrew its right flank toward Piazza Armerina, to cover the Hermann Göring Division. [66]

Early on 13 July, elements of 5th Division on Eighth Army’s right flank, which had been delayed by Kampfgruppe Schmalz , entered Augusta. [67] On their left, the 50th Division had pushed up Route 114 toward Lentini, 15 miles (24 km) north-west of Augusta and met increasing resistance from the “Napoli” Division [68] The commander of the Italian division and his staff were captured by the 4th Armoured Brigade on 13 June and it was not until 18:45 on 14 July that the town was cleared of obstructions and snipers and the advance resumed. [69] [70] A battalion of the Napoli Division managed to break through the British lines and took up new positions at Augusta but the British advance forced it to retire again on 14 July. [71]

Further left, in the XXX Corps sector, 51st Division had moved directly north to take Palazzolo and Vizzini 30 miles (48 km) west of Syracuse, while the Canadians secured Pachino airfield and headed north-west to make contact with the American right wing at Ragusa after having driven off the Italian 122 Infantry Regiment north of Pachino. The Canadians had captured more than 500 Italian soldiers. [72] [73] In the Canadian area, the Special Service Brigade (Brigadier Robert Laycock), was counter-attacked by the 206th Coastal Division launched a strong counter-attack that threatened to penetrate the area between the Canadians and the Royal Marine Commandos before being repulsed. [74]

In the US sector, by the morning of 10 July, the port of Licata had been captured. On 11 July, Patton ordered his reserve parachute troops from the 504th PIR of the 82nd Airborne to drop and reinforce the center. Warning orders had been issued to the fleet and troops on 6, 7, 10 and 11 July concerning the planned route and timing of the drop, so that the aircraft would not be fired on by friendly forces. [75] They were intended to drop east of Ponte Olivo, about 5 miles (8.0 km) inland from Gela, to block routes to U.S. 1st Infantry Division bridgehead at Gela. [40]

The 144 Douglas C-47 transports arrived at the same time as an Axis air raid the first echelon of troop carrying planes dropped their loads without interference, when an Allied naval vessel fired on the formation. Immediately, all the other naval vessels and shore troops joined in, shooting down friendly aircraft and forcing paratroopers to jump far from their drop zones. The 52nd Troop Carrier Wing lost 23 of 144 С-47s to friendly fire there were 318 casualties with 83 dead. [76] Thirty-seven aircraft were damaged, while eight returned to base without dropping their parachutists. The 504th PIR suffered 229 casualties to “friendly fire” including 81 dead. [77] [75] In spite of this, the US beach landings went well and a substantial amount of supplies and transport was landed. In spite of the failure of the airborne operation, U.S. 1st Infantry Division took Ponte Olivo on 12 July and continued north, while U.S. 45th Infantry Division on the right had taken the airfield at Comiso and entered Ragusa to link with the Canadians. On the left, 3rd Infantry Division had pushed troops 25 miles (40 km) up the coast almost to Argento and 20 miles (32 km) inland to Canicatti. [78]

Once the beachheads were secure, Alexander’s plan was to split the island in half by thrusting north through the Caltanissetta and Enna region, to deny the defenders the central east–west lateral road. A further push north to Nicosia would cut the next lateral route and a final advance to San Stefano on the north coast would cut the coastal route. In new orders issued on 13 July, he gave this task to Eighth Army, perhaps based on a somewhat over-optimistic situation report by Montgomery on late on 12 July, while U.S. 7th Army were to continue their holding role on the left flank of the Eighth Army, despite what appeared to be an opportunity for them to make a bold offensive move. [79] [80] On 12 July, Kesselring had visited Sicily and formed the opinion that German troops were fighting virtually on their own. As a consequence, he concluded that the German formations needed to be reinforced, and that western Sicily should be abandoned in order to shorten the front line. The priority was first to slow and then halt the Allied advance, while a Hauptkampflinie was formed running from San Stefano on the north coast, through Nicosia and Agira to Cantenanuova and from there to the east coast south of Catania. [81]

While XIII Corps continued to push along the Catania road, XXX Corps were directed north along two routes the first was an inland route through Vizzini, and the second following Route 124, which cut across the U.S. 45th Infantry Division and necessitated its return to the coast at Gela for redeployment behind 1st Infantry Division. Progress was slow as Kampfgruppe Schmalz skilfully delayed the 5th Infantry Division, allowing time for two regiments from the 1st Parachute Division flying to Catania to deploy. [82] On 12 July, 1 Parachute Brigade had been dropped, to capture the Primasole Bridge over the river Simeto, on the southern edge of the Catania plain and the British paratroopers managed to hold it open against fierce attacks from seven Italian battalions, the 5th Infantry Division was delayed by strong opposition but made contact early on 15 July but it was not until 17 July that a shallow bridgehead north of the river was consolidated. [79]

On 16 July, the Sicilian air command ordered the evacuation to Italy of surviving Italian aircraft at airfields. About 160 Italian aircraft had been lost in the first week of the invasion, 57 lost to Allied fighters and anti-aircraft fire from 10–12 July alone. [83] That day, HMS Indomitable was damaged by an Italian torpedo bomber and put her out of action for the remainder of the European conflict.

On the night of 17 July, the Italian light cruiser Scipione Africano, equipped with EC.3 Gufo radar, detected and engaged four British Elco motor torpedo boats lurking 5 miles (8 km) away, while passing the Strait of Messina at high speed. [84] MTB 316 and MTB 313 between Reggio di Calabria and Pellaro and twelve British sailors were killed. [85] [86] [87]

On the night of 17/18 July, Montgomery renewed his attack toward Catania, with two brigades of the 50th Division. They met strong opposition and by 19 July Montgomery decided to call off the attack and instead increase the pressure on his left. The 5th Division attacked on 50th Division’s left but with no greater success, and on 20 July the 51st Division, further west, crossed the river Dittaino at Sferro and made for the Gerbini airfields. They too were driven back by counter-attacks on 21 July. [88] On the left flank, the Canadians continued to advance but it was becoming clear that, as German units settled into their new positions in north eastern Sicily, the army would not have sufficient strength to carry the whole front and the Canadians were ordered to continue north to Leonforte and then turn eastward to Adrano on the south-western slopes of Mount Etna, instead of an encirclement of Mount Etna using Route 120 to Randazzo. Montgomery called forward from North Africa the 78th Infantry Division. [88]

Patton had reorganised his forces into two corps and by 17 July, the Provisional Corps on the left had captured Porto Empedocle and Agrigento, and II Corps on his right took Caltanissetta on 18 July, just short of Route 121, the main east–west lateral through the center of Sicily. The U.S. advance toward Agrigento was temporarily held up by the 207th Coastal Defence Division and the 10th Bersaglieri Regiment (Colonel Fabrizio Storti) had forced Colonel William Darby‘s 1st and 3rd Ranger Battalions to fight their way into Agrigento. [89] By late afternoon on 16 July, the city was in American hands. [90]

The 15th Panzer Grenadier Division managed join the other German formations in the east of the island and Patton was ordered on 18 July to push troops north through Petralia on Route 120, the next east–west lateral, and then to cut the northern coast road. He would then mop up the west of the island. II Corps were given the task of making the northward move, while the Provisional Corps was tasked with the mopping up operation. Alexander issued further orders to Patton to develop an eastward threat along the coast road once he had cut it. He was also directed to capture Palermo as quickly as possible in order to create a main supply base to maintain further eastward commitment north of Mount Etna. [88] On 21 July, the Seventh US Army Provisional Corps overran Ragruppamento Schreiber and several battalions from the Aosta and Assietta Divisions protecting the Italian withdrawal, but Patton lost 300 men killed and wounded. [91] [92] On 22 July, the Provisional Corps entered Palermo and the next day 45th Division cut the north coast road. [93]

Battles for Etna positions

During the last week in July, Montgomery gathered his forces to renew the attack on 1 August. His immediate objective was Adrano, the capture of which would split the German forces on either side of Mount Etna. During the week, the Canadians and 231st Brigade continued their eastward push from Leonforte, and on 29 July had taken Agira, some 15 miles (24 km) west of Adrano. On the night of 29 July, 78th Division with 3rd Canadian Brigade under command, took Catenanuova and made a bridgehead across the river Dittaino. On the night of 1 August, they resumed their attack to the northwest toward Centuripe, an isolated pinnacle of rock, which was the main southern outpost of the Adrano defences. After heavy fighting against the Hermann Göring Division and the 3rd Parachute Regiment all day on 2 August, the town was finally cleared of defenders on the morning of 3 August. The capture of Centuripe proved critical, in that the growing threat to Adrano made the position covering Catania untenable. [93]

Patton had decided that his communications could support two divisions pushing east, 45th Division on the coast road and 1st Division on Route 120. In order to maintain the pressure, he relieved 45th Division with the fresher 3rd Division and called up 9th Infantry Division from reserve in North Africa to relieve 1st Division. [93] Axis forces were now settled on a second defensive line, the Etna Line, running from San Fratello on the north coast through Troina and Aderno. On 31 July, 1 Division with elements of the arriving 9th Division attached, reached Troina and the Battle of Troina commenced. This important position was held by the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division. The remnants of the 28 Infantry Division Aosta in the form of four battalions had also been pulled back to Troina to assist in the defensive preparations and forthcoming battle. [94]

For six days, the Germans and Italians conducted a costly defence, during the battle, they launched 24 counter-attacks and many small local ones. By 7 August, the U.S. 18th Infantry Regiment had captured Mount Pellegrino, which overlooked the Troina defences, allowing accurate direction of Allied artillery. The defenders’ left flank was also becoming exposed as the adjacent Hermann Göring Division was pushed back by XXX Corps and they were ordered to withdraw that night in phases to the defensive positions of the Tortorici Line. [95] Elements of 29th Panzergrenadier Division and 26th Assietta Infantry Division, were also proving difficult to dislodge on the coast at Santa Agata and San Fratello. Patton sent a small amphibious force behind the defences, which led to the fall of Santa Agata on 8 August after holding out for six days, [93] [96]

On 3 August, XIII Corps exploited the disorganisation caused by the threat to Adrano and resumed their advance on Catania, and by 5 August the town was in their hands. Adrano fell to 78th Division on the night of 6 August, while on the right, 51st Division took Biancavilla, 2 miles (3.2 km) south-east of Adrano. [93] After the fall of Adrano, the Canadian Division was withdrawn into Army Reserve. [97] On 8 August, 78th Division moved north from Adrano took Bronte and the 9th Division, advancing from Troina, took Cesaro, valuable positions on the New Hube Line. Both divisions converged on Randazzo, on the north-west slopes of Etna. Randazzo fell on 13 August and 78th Division was taken into reserve. [93] As the Allied advance continued, the front line shortened and Montgomery decided to withdraw XIII Corps HQ and 5th Infantry Division on 10 August, to allow them to prepare for the landings on mainland Italy. [98] On the northern coast, the 3rd Division continued to meet strong resistance and difficulties created by extensive demolition of the road. Two more end-run amphibious attacks, and the rebuilding efforts of the engineers, kept the advance moving. [99] Although Kesselring had already decided to evacuate, the Axis forces continued their delaying tactics, assisted by the favorable defensive terrain of the Messina Peninsula on the night of 16 August, the leading elements of 3rd Division entered Messina. [100]

The Knollwood Maneuver

T he night of 6 December 1943 in southeastern North Carolina was cold with a nearly-full moon. Towns in Moore, Hoke, Scotland and Richmond counties were blacked out by Army request. Road networks from Cameron to Rockingham, Eastwood to Laurinburg, West End to Raeford and Hamlet to Hoffman had been closed to all civilian traffic from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. Approaching from the east, a large armada of C-47 aircraft carrying paratroopers or towing gliders was nearing the Knollwood Army Auxiliary Airfield near Pinehurst, NC. Aboard one glider was Major (MAJ) Robert L. Johnson, six enlisted glider artillerymen and a jeep from the 675th Glider Field Artillery (GFA) Battalion of the 11th Airborne Division. They were part of the airborne invasion force launched to capture Knollwood Airfield. In the early morning hours of 7 December 1943, MAJ Johnson’s glider pilot released the tow line and began the descent toward his landing zone along N.C. Route 5 between Aberdeen and Pinehurst, NC . 1

1 Lane Toomey, “Where Airborne Proved Itself,” The Pilot.com, 3 December 2003, 2.

Main article


After hitting the landing zone, the glider skimmed across a field hitting a farmhouse that sheared off its left wing. It stopped and settled “tail-up”. No one was injured in the farmhouse or the glider. MAJ Johnson and the soldiers scrambled out to get the tail down, lifted up the nose compartment and freed the jeep. This accomplished, Johnson drove off to locate the battalion’s twelve 75mm pack howitzers and crews. This glider landing during the Knollwood Maneuver was typical for the “Blue” Force elements. It marked the beginning of the exercise that determined whether the American airborne kept divisional sized elements . 2

2 Gerard M. Devlin, Paratrooper (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1979), 246.

Blue Force

Red Force

The purpose of this article is to discuss the development and formation of the American Army airborne units, the Airborne Training Center at Camp Mackall, NC, and the Knollwood Maneuver conducted in December 1943 which preserved the airborne divisions in World War II. Parachute forces for the U.S. Army were proposed as early as 1918. Despite the German Army’s airborne demonstrations in the 1930’s, the American Army did not form its first parachute “Test Platoon” until 1940. This marked the beginning of a series of experiments with the size and composition of airborne forces that continued throughout World War II. The one topic that generated the greatest controversy among senior officers was the value of forming airborne divisions.

An early American airborne visionary was Brigadier General William L. “Billy” Mitchell. In 1918, he planned and received approval from General John J. Pershing to drop elements of the 1st Infantry Division by parachute from airplanes into the German Army’s rear area during the latter stages of WWI . 3 The Great War ended before Mitchell could implement the plan. After the war all military force modernization efforts competed for a very limited War Department budget. The airborne concept did not get past the planning stages. Recovery from the Great Depression dominated the 1930s even as the Germans refined their Blitzkrieg strategy by integrating parachute and glider units into their offensive operations.

3 Devlin, Paratrooper, 23.

Germany air-landed soldiers at Aspern Airport in Vienna to begin the occupation in early 1938. After the Munich Peace Conference in September 1938 a German infantry regiment was air-landed to occupy the Silesian town of Freiwaldau. Realizing the significance of airborne forces in future operations, the U. S. Chief of Infantry got approval from the War Department Operations Section (G-3) to study the organization of a regiment of air infantry. Once the study became public, the chiefs of the Infantry, Army Air Force, and Engineer branches petitioned the War Department for the proponency of air infantry tactics. The Chief of Engineers envisioned employing paratroopers as saboteurs and demolition teams. The Army Air Force felt that these airborne soldiers should be “Marines of the Air Corps” and designated “Air Grenadiers. ” 4 The Infantry saw the airplane as merely transportation the paratroop’s primary mission on the ground was to fight as infantrymen. On 6 August 1939, General George C. Marshall assigned the mission to raise, train, test and equip airborne forces to Major General (MG) George A. Lynch, the Chief of Infantry . 5 Once again, the Germans provided the impetus for American action.

4 LTC John T. Ellis, Jr., The Airborne Command and Center Study No. 25 (Washington, D.C.: Historical Section-Army Ground Forces, 1946), 2.

5 Devlin, Paratrooper, 81.

German parachute troops (Fallschirmjaegers) were used to capture key bridges over Belgium’s Maas and Waal Rivers while parachute and glider forces neutralized and captured Fort Eben Emael, their key defensive position. This enabled the Germans to occupy Belgium in two days in May 1940.

The War Department

During WWII, American ground and air forces were the responsibility of the War Department. The War Department was led by a separate civilian secretary directly responsible to the President of the United States. The War Department was comprised of:

  1. The Secretary of War
  2. The Assistant Secretary of War
  3. The War Department General Staff, further divided into military staff divisions of Personnel (G-1), Military Intelligence (G-2), Operations and Training (G-3), Supply (G-4) and War Plans Division (WPD).
    (This staff was directed by the Chief of Staff of the Army who was the adviser to the Secretary of War and the head of the military establishment.)
  4. Offices of the Chiefs of Services and Arms: Infantry, Field Artillery, Coast Artillery, Cavalry, Army Air Forces, Corps of Engineers and Signal Corps.

On 25 June 1940, the War Department approved the organization of a test platoon of airborne infantry. Two officers and forty-eight enlisted soldiers were chosen from over two-hundred 29th Infantry Regiment volunteers at Fort Benning, Georgia. First Lieutenant (1LT) William T. Ryder commanded the platoon with Lieutenant James A. Bassett as his assistant. Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) William C. Lee, the airborne staff officer for the Chief of Infantry, took the platoon to the Safe Parachute Company in Hightstown, New Jersey. There they trained on the parachute drop towers used in the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City. The Army bought four of the towers. They were reassembled at Fort Benning and are still used to train today’s airborne students. From 16 to 30 August 1940, the platoon members progressed from individual to mass parachute jumps using a Douglas B-18A “Bolo” bomber. The Test Platoon’s success further fostered activation of the 501st Parachute Infantry Battalion on 26 September 1940. MAJ William M. Miley would command America’s first airborne infantry battalion.

The B-18A “Bolo”, manufactured by Douglas Aviation, was originally selected as the Army’s early, multi-engine bomber. Its limited range and speed made it better suited for cargo, transport, anti-submarine or pilot training roles than for combat. On 6 August 1940 1LT William T. Ryder jumped from a B-18A over Cactus Field at Fort Benning, GA earning the title of “America’s first paratrooper.”

The Infantry and Air Corps continued to develop and to refine airborne force requirements from October 1940 until July 1941. The Air Corps began testing gliders and new cargo aircraft. The ultimate demonstration of German airborne capability happened on 20 May 1941. The Luftwaffe achieved complete air superiority over British and New Zealand forces on the island of Crete. Then glider and parachute troops landed and gained control of key installations including the island’s Maleme Airdrome. The airdrome’s importance became obvious when air-transported forces were landed enmasse to reinforce airborne forces. The German invasion and capture of Crete was the capstone that ultimately caused the United States War Department to develop its own airborne capability.

At Fort Kobbe, Panama Canal Zone, the U.S. Army formed its first air-landing unit, the 550th Infantry Airborne Battalion reinforced by Company C, 1st Battalion 501st Parachute Infantry. The airborne force was commanded by LTC Harris M. Melasky. In August 1941, the 550th conducted the first major army airborne exercise at the Rio Hato training area . 6 Lessons were learned: the tactical employment of airborne forces required close staff coordination between air corps and airborne forces air to ground communications was a necessity and aircraft specifically designed to transport ground troops and equipment were needed. As LTC Melasky continued to refine tactical airborne concepts, the Infantry Center was activating more airborne battalions and an airborne command headquarters.

6 LTC John T. Ellis, Jr., The Airborne Command and Center Study No. 25 (Washington, D.C.: Historical Section-Army Ground Forces, 1946), 6.

Because the 501st was the only Army parachute battalion in 1941, it was conducting parachute training and providing trained cadre to activate new airborne units. These missions were draining the 501st Parachute Infantry Battalion. MAJ Miley recommended that the Chief of Infantry form a separate unit to train parachute volunteers who would fill new airborne units. The War Department agreed and on 10 March 1941 activated the Provisional Parachute Group headquarters at Fort Benning commanded by LTC William C. Lee.

Following the War Department and Army reorganization on 9 March 1942, the Provisional Parachute Group was designated the Airborne Command on 21 March 1942. Newly promoted Colonel (COL) Lee quickly discovered that individual and unit parachute training was repeatedly interrupted by requests for airborne demonstrations and parachute troop participation in Army Ground Force (AGF) maneuvers. After several complaints by the Chief of Infantry, LTG Leslie J. McNair, Commanding General AGF, decided to keep the parachute training center at Fort Benning, but he transfered the Airborne Command Headquarters to Fort Bragg, NC on 1 May 1942. This move cut down the visitors, but left undecided who would command and control airborne units.

Parachute Units 1940-42

The units here are not intended to be a complete list of all World War II parachute units. They indicate only those active parachute units in the U.S. Army before official designation of airborne divisions on 15 August 1942. The source for this information is Appendix Number 11 of The Airborne Command and Center Study Number 25, the Army Ground Forces Historical Section, 1946, written by LTC John T. Ellis Jr.

Key personnel in American airborne development (1942). From L to R. General Henry H. Arnold, Chief, USAAF MG Matthew B. Ridgway, CG, 82nd Airborne Division (A/D) MG Joseph M. Swing, CG, 11th A/D MG William C. Lee, CG, 101st A/D MG William M. Miley, CG, 17th A/D and MG Elbridge G. Chapman, CG, 13th A/D.

501st PIB 26 September 1940 MAJ William M. Miley
Provisional Parachute Group 10 March 1941 LTC William C. Lee
The Parachute School 15 May 1941 MAJ William M. Miley
502nd PIB 1 July 1941 MAJ George P. Howell, Jr.
503rd PIB b 21 August 1941 MAJ Robert F. Sink
504th PIB b 5 October 1941 MAJ Richard Chase
502nd PIR 2 March 1942 LTC George P. Howell, Jr.
503rd PIR 2 March 1942 LTC William M. Miley
Airborne Command 21 March 1942 COL William C. Lee
504th PIR 1 May 1942 COL Rueben H. Tucker
505th PIR 6 July 1942 COL James M. Gavin
506th PIR 20 July 1942 COL Robert F. Sink
507th PIR 20 July 1942 LTC George V. Millet
82nd Airborne Division 15 August 1942 MG Matthew B. Ridgway
101st Airborne Division 15 August 1942 MG William C. Lee
Airborne Command 16 August 1942 MG Elbridge G. Chapman

Note a: PIB is Parachute Infantry Battalion PIR is Parachute Infantry Regiment.
Note b: The 503rd and 504th PIBs were later absorbed into the PIRs with the 503rd PIB becoming the 1st Battalion, 503rd PIR and the 504th PIB becoming the 2nd Battalion, 504th PIR. Both PIRs 3rd Battalions were formed from recent graduates of the Parachute School.

The U.S. Army’s rapid activation of parachute and glider regiments elevated the issue of commanding and controlling large-scale airborne operations. The British were already evaluating the type and mix of forces to conduct airborne operations. Now Brigadier General (BG) Lee was sent to England to observe their airborne training and talk with parachute veterans about airborne operations in North Africa, Italy, and France . 7 This was when Lee first learned that the British intended to consolidate its airborne units into divisions. After returning, BG Lee recommended to LTG McNair that the American Army follow the British example. Unwilling to make a hasty decision, LTG McNair told him that his staff would study the proposal. Two weeks later, McNair called Lee to tell him that two airborne divisions would be activated by mid-August 1942. No other air-landing units would be formed. Those in existence would be converted to glider infantry and assigned to the airborne divisions . 8 The Army designated the 82nd and 101st Infantry Divisions as its first two airborne divisions on 15 August 1942. The next step was to get American airborne forces into combat.

7 Gerard M. Devlin, Paratrooper, 125.

8 Devlin, Paratrooper, 126.

The U.S. Army airborne received its “baptism of fire” in North Africa during Operation TORCH. The 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion (PIB) (formerly 2nd Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry) commanded by LTC Edson D. Raff was selected for the operation. The 509th PIB had been training in England since June 1942. Its mission was to jump at dawn on 8 November 1942 and seize two Pro-Axis French-controlled airfields south of Oran, Algeria prior to the Allied sea-borne invasion. Thirty-nine C-47 aircraft would carry the PIB 1500 miles non-stop from England during the night of 7-8 November 1942. Nine C-47 loads of paratroopers, led by MAJ William P. Yarborough, (Raff was injured during the jump) conducted a thirty-five mile foot march to the airfield at Tafaraoui, Algeria to discover it already secured by sea-landed ground forces. Poor navigation, strong headwinds, an inoperative Eureka homing device, incorrect radio frequencies supplied to the navigational beacon ship, and the absence of coordination between sea-landing and airborne forces caused the majority of the C-47’s to exhaust their fuel and land wherever they could. After TORCH, the 509th established its headquarters at Oujda, French Morocco.

Flight route of the 509th PIB on 7 November 1942 in support of Operation TORCH . m1 m1 Gerard M. Devlin, Paratrooper, p. 152. The C-47 “Sky Train” was the workhorse of the USAAF in every theater of operations. It performed a variety of missions from transporting supplies and equipment to dropping paratroopers and towing gliders. Each paratrooper pictured is equipped with a lowering line for use in the event of a tree landing.

While the 509th recovered from its first combat operation and prepared for the next, the 82nd Airborne Division arrived in French Morocco on 10 May 1943 to prepare for the invasion of Sicily (Operation HUSKY). The Division Commander, MG Matthew B. Ridgway, and BG Maxwell D. Taylor, the Division Artillery (DIVARTY) commander, established the division headquarters with the two Parachute Infantry Regiments (504th and 505th) at Oujda near the 509th PIB. BG Charles L. Keerans, the Assistant Division Commander, set up his headquarters with the glider infantry regiment (325th) at Marina, twelve miles east of Oujda. Operation HUSKY included four separate airborne operations in Sicily. American and British airborne forces would each conduct two. HUSKY I, assigned to COL James M. Gavin’s reinforced 505th Parachute Regimental Combat Team (PRCT) assault would take place on 10 July 1943 with the British 1st Air Landing Brigade and COL Reuben H. Tucker’s 504th PRCT would conduct HUSKY II on 11 July 1943 with the British 1st Parachute Brigade.


Flight routes for British and American airborne forces during the invasion of Sicily in July 1943.
Click on the mission name to isolate the path.

Rendezvous point for Husky I & II, LADBROKE and FUSTIAN Missions

HUSKY I Mission, 9/10 July 1943

HUSKY II Mission, 11/12 July 1943

LADBROKE Mission, 9/10 July 1943

FUSTIAN Mission, 9/10 July 1943

The U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) 52nd Troop Carrier Wing would transport the Allied airborne forces from Kairouan, Tunisia to their glider landings and parachute drop zones on Sicily during the night of 10-11 July 1943. The flight route for the 505th (HUSKY I) was a 415 mile course. It was supposed to be flown in close formation, 200 feet above the water and under black-out conditions. Thirty-five knot ground winds caused the C-47s to drift off course and paratroopers were scattered far from their primary drop zones. The 504th’s infiltration route (HUSKY II) flew over a sea full of Allied troop ships. Prior coordination was in vain. When the HUSKY II aircraft flew over them, the ships opened fire. The Navy gunners had standing orders to shoot at any aircraft. Twenty-three of one hundred and forty-four troop-carrier aircraft were shot down and thirty-seven aircraft were heavily damaged by friendly fire 318 paratroopers and airmen were killed or wounded. Among the dead was BG Keerans, who was observing in an orbiting C-47 when his aircraft was shot down. The friendly fire broke up the USAAF formation and the paratroopers were widely dispersed.

When Sicily operations officially ended, LTG Eisenhower, the HUSKY invasion force commander, reviewed all American parachute and glider operations. In his after action report to General Marshall, Eisenhower recommended against division-sized airborne units in the United States Army since they were too difficult to control in combat . 9 The Chief of Staff of the Army considered this, but rather than immediately inactivate the 11th, 13th, 17th, 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, he ordered a special board of officers to examine airborne doctrine, organization and training.

9 Devlin, Paratrooper, 246.

In mid-September 1943, LTG Leslie J. McNair convened a board at Camp Mackall, NC. MG Joseph M. Swing, the 11th Airborne Division commander, chaired what was referred to as the “Swing Board.” The board was charged with developing procedures for planning and executing airborne missions in conjunction with combined conventional operations . 10 MG Swing was personally chosen to be President of the Board by General Marshall. Swing, who had been Eisenhower’s airborne advisor in North Africa, knew the problems, but he still believed in the airborne division concept. The other board members were experienced paratroop and glider unit commanders and staff officers as well as First Troop Carrier Command (I TCC) veterans and glider pilots . 11 For two weeks, the board worked around the clock reviewing Axis and Allied airborne operations, studying the airborne division organization, and analyzing the problems encountered by the USAAF troop carrier units during the North African and Sicilian operations. Navigational problems, interservice communications, and airborne command and control were closely evaluated . 12

10 LTC John T. Ellis, Jr., The Airborne Command and Center Study No. 25, 24.

11 Edward M. Flanagan, Jr., Airborne. A Combat History of American Airborne Forces (New York: Ballantine Books, 2002), 98.

12 Flanagan, Airborne, 98.

At the end of September 1943, the review was completed and the recommendations were sent to the War Department staff. The most important recommendation was the need for closer coordination between airborne units and troop carrier commands. After the War Department had reviewed and discussed the Swing Board’s findings, Marshall approved the publication as War Department Training Circular No. 113 Employment of Airborne and Troop Carrier Forces dated 9 October 1943. This formalized the responsibilities and relationships between the airborne and troop carrier commands . 13

13 Devlin, Paratrooper, 247.

Despite the recommendations of the Swing Board, General Marshall and LTG McNair were not convinced that the airborne division would be effective. They wanted proof of the effectiveness of the concept. LTG McNair ordered MG Swing to plan an 11th Airborne maneuver for December 1943 to demonstrate the validity of the airborne division. It was very obvious that the future of the airborne division depended entirely upon a successful maneuver.

Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, who also had reservations about the utility of the airborne division, visited Camp Mackall on 23-24 November 1943. There he watched a division (-) infantry-artillery, parachute-glider demonstration called the “Pea Patch Show,” so called because it took place on a piece of land once used to grow peas . 14 Stimson was favorably impressed by the exercise, and on 27 November 1943 wrote General Swing: “The Airborne Division will play a great part in our future successes, and I know that the 11th Airborne Division will render outstanding service to our country on some not too far distant D Day. ” 15 However, the small-scale of the exercise was not sufficient to convince Marshall and McNair. They would delay their decision on the airborne division’s future until after the Knollwood Maneuver.

14 Gerard M. Devlin, Silent Wings. The Story of The Glider Pilots of WW II (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985), 118.

15 Flanagan, Airborne, 99.

23-24 November 1943. Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson accompanied by BG Frederick W. Evans, CG I TCC and MAJ Michael C. Murphy, Director of Flying Training for I TCC headed to the “Pea Patch Show.” BG Frederick W. Evans, CG, I TCC and BG Leo Donovan, CG Airborne Command in front of the fireplace in the VIP briefing cabin at Camp Mackall. This same cabin today houses Camp Mackall’s Range Control office.

U.S. Army airborne operations in North Africa and Sicily had identified certain issues that continued to raise doubts among Army leaders about the usefulness of airborne divisions. The upcoming exercise in December 1943 would confirm or dispel these reservations. Camp Mackall, NC was the logical site for the airborne division maneuver. It was the only U.S. Army installation established solely for training, testing and evaluating equipment, tactics, techniques and procedures for paratroopers, glidermen and troop transport pilots and crews. The Airborne Command had the responsibility to validate airborne doctrine and equipment. The retention of the airborne division in the Army’s force structure was at stake. Preparation for the Knollwood Maneuver began in earnest in November 1943.

Between General Marshall’s decision to test the airborne division concept and the Pea Patch Show for Secretary of War Stimson, the airborne-troop carrier headquarters was moved to Camp Mackall on 12 November 1943. BG Frederick W. Evans, CG I TCC at Laurinburg-Maxton Army Air Base (L-MAAB), was named the Maneuver Director and BG Leo Donovan, CG of the Airborne Command at Camp Mackall, was his deputy. The combined maneuver would be conducted from 6 to 10 December 1943 . 16 The concept of the operation, based entirely on Training Circular No. 113, Employment of Airborne and Troop Carrier Forces, October 9, 1943, involved staging airborne and glider elements of the 11th Airborne Division from Pope Army Airfield, Mackall Army Airfield, Florence, SC, Lumberton and Laurinburg-Maxton airfields. These separate echelons would take-off and rendezvous in-flight near the Atlantic coast. Then, the armada would fly a circuitous route of approximately two-hundred miles, a portion of which would be over open-ocean at night before turning inland toward the drop and landing zones. At least one-half of the airborne force would land at night. All reinforcement, resupply, evacuation, and other support requirements would be done by air . 17

16 Ellis, The Airborne Command and Center Study, 25.

17 Ellis, The Airborne Command and Center Study, 26.

There were four critical questions to be answered:

  1. Could a large airborne force, of division size, travel over a three- to four-hour instrument course across a large body of water and arrive at precisely selected drop zones?
  2. Could such a force land in gliders and by parachute without excessive casualties?
  3. Could a division so landed wage sustained combat?
  4. Could a division so landed be supplied by air and air landings alone? 18

All that remained was to write the operations order.

18 MAJ Edward M. Flanagan, Jr., The Angels, A History of the 11th Airborne Division 1943-1946 (Nashville, TN: The Battery Press, Inc., 1946), 10.

On 15 November 1943, the 11th Airborne Division received its mission from the Headquarters, Airborne Command at Camp Mackall. The 11th Airborne Division, reinforced by the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) was to assault on D-Day, 7 December 1943, capture Aberdeen, NC and Knollwood Airport (now known as the Moore County Regional Airport), establish an airhead around Knollwood Airport, and prevent reinforcement of the Red Army at Raeford, NC (17th Airborne and 541st PIR) from the north and northwest . 19 Defending Knollwood and selected critical points was a regiment combat team (minus). An infantry battalion, an antitank company, a field artillery battery and a medical detachment from the 17th Airborne Division were combined with a battalion from COL Ducat M. McEntee’s independent 541st Parachute Infantry Regiment. These elements were training at Camp Mackall . 20

19 Frank A. Blazich, Jr., Part of Us: The Relationship between Hoffman, North Carolina and Camp Mackall, North Carolina from September 1942 to September 1945, Honors Thesis Department of History University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, May 2004, 61. This 11th Airborne Division mission statement originated from Field Order Number 1, HQ AB Carrier Task Force, Camp Mackall, North Carolina dated 15 November 1943.

20 Devlin, Paratrooper, 247.

Knollwood Army Auxiliary Airfield now Moore County Regional Airport as it appears today. The visible open areas became drop and landing zones for parachute and glider forces during the airborne assault on Knollwood on 7 December 1943. Standard squadron flight formation known as a “Vee of Vees” employed by troop carrier command aircraft during a parachute drop of men and equipment . m3 m3 Steven J. Zaloga, US Airborne Divisions in the ETO 1944-45, p.50

On 4 December 1943, units of the 11th Airborne Division began leaving Camp Mackall for their respective departure airfields. The original plan called for all units to take off on the night of 5 December, but inclement weather postponed the attack for twenty-four hours. LTG McNair was the maneuver’s chief umpire and evaluator. Undersecretary of War Robert Patterson, MG Matthew B. Ridgway, and BG Leo Donovan were observers. About midnight, 6 December 1943, 200 C-47s began taking off from the airfields in North and South Carolina for the mass airborne assault. Numerous C-47s carried a full load of eighteen combat-equipped paratroopers and towed either one or two gliders full of soldiers and equipment. As the C-47’s took off, the planes and gliders began forming into “Vee of Vee” formations, nine aircraft wide. The air armada flew east out over the Atlantic Ocean, then turned north and finally turned back west heading towards the drop zones and landing zones around Southern Pines and Pinehurst. Golf courses and open fields between five and ten miles west and north of Knollwood Airport had been designated as drop zones and landing zones . 21 The assault began at 2:30 a.m. on 7 December 1943 with the gliders and paratroopers landing almost simultaneously.

21 Flanagan, Airborne, 102.

Having survived his glider’s collision with the farmhouse, MAJ Robert L. Johnson continued locating the 675th howitzers, getting fire support for the division established and assembling the unit. The Battalion Executive Officer (XO) had not been “drafted” into becoming a “glider rider.” He had been “recruited” by COL Francis W. Farrell, the 11th Airborne Division Chief of Staff. COL Farrell supervised Johnson as an artillery instructor in the Gunnery Department at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. When Johnson reported to Camp Mackall in December 1942, he was assigned to the 675th Glider Field Artillery Battalion. Glider artillery battalions at that time had two batteries with six 75mm Pack Howitzers each and one battery of eight .50 caliber anti-aircraft machine guns and four 37mm anti-tank guns . 22 Although glidermen and paratroopers shared the same hazards on the battlefield, there was a distinct line between the two groups. The majority of glidermen were assigned to fill requirements while all paratroopers were volunteers.

22 Brigadier General Robert L. Johnson, USA Retired, interview by Dr. Charles H. Briscoe and Eugene G. Piasecki, October 2007, Whispering Pines, NC, tape recording, USASOC History Office Classified Files, Fort Bragg, NC. MAJ Johnson’s relationship with COL Farrell was based upon the enjoyment of playing polo.

Assault Glider Tow Formation showing the preferred spacing for towing single and double loads of gliders by C-47s flying an echelon right formation . m4 m4 Steven J. Zaloga, US Airborne Divisions in the ETO 1944-45, p. 49.

The majority of glider training was conducted at Laurinburg-Maxton Army Air Base (L-MAAB). It consisted of equipment loading, weight distribution and cross-loading of key personnel (spreading the leaders among the available aircraft). To become authorized to wear the glider qualification badge and overseas cap patch, each soldier made one glider flight. It took five parachute jumps to become a fully qualified parachutist who could wear the parachute badge, the distinctive overseas cap patch and Corcoran jump boots. As General Johnson later observed: “The differences between the qualification standards for glidermen and paratroopers created a strong competition between the two groups despite General Swing’s intent to have as many men as possible dual-qualified in the 11th Airborne Division. ” 23 Despite their differences, the paratroopers and glidermen realized the future of the airborne division rested upon their united efforts during the Knollwood Maneuver.

The first division-sized night air assault had its share of problems. The missions of the 187th and 188th Glider Infantry Regiments (GIR) dictated that they land around Knollwood to secure the airhead. This would allow supplies and reinforcements to be air-landed on the airfield. The 11th Airborne DIVARTY, which included the 675th, was positioned west of Pinehurst to provide fire support for the parachute infantry. As expected, a number of the gliders carrying the howitzers missed their landing zones. Some ended up in the tops of tall pine trees or entangled in power lines (the electricity was turned off). As Johnson located his battalion’s howitzers, he hooked them to his jeep and moved them into position to support the infantry. The Fire Direction Center was established in the open. Wire connected the units to DIVARTY and jeep-mounted radios were the link to division headquarters. Metal crickets like those later used on D-Day in Normandy identified the 11th Airborne personnel. The 675th GFAB had only one serious casualty. A trailer of medical supplies broke loose when its glider landed and broke the battalion supply officer’s legs . 24

The 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment dropped on and around the Knollwood Airfield and by 0230 hours on 7 December 1943 had secured the objective. Some of the paratroopers and gliders missed their drop and landing zones and road marched to rejoin their units. The glider carrying the 11th Airborne Chief of Staff, COL Farrell, landed on a road in the Fort Bragg Artillery Range. From the moment Knollwood was secured, a steady stream of aircraft, loaded with men and all classes of supply, began landing on the airfield to expand the airhead. Combat operations between the 11th (Blue Force) and the Red Army force (elements of the 17th Airborne Division) continued until the maneuver was ended on 12 December 1943 by LTG McNair . 25

25 Flanagan, The Angels, 11.

CG-4A “WACO” gliders ready for loading. Notice the pilot’s compartment in the raised nose section and the wooden supports used to elevate the tail to keep the cargo compartment on the ground. This technique made it easier to load bulky supplies and equipment into the glider.

Deteriorating weather conditions made the results of the Knollwood Maneuver more impressive. Temperatures plummeted during the day on 7 December and rain turned to sleet. The 53rd Troop Carrier Wing First Troop Carrier Command (I TCC) provided L-MAAB 200 C-47 transport aircraft and towed 234 CG-4A gliders 100 gliders were double-towed. In thirty-nine hours, a total of 10,282 men were delivered by parachute, glider, or air landed. The tally of equipment and supplies was significant: 1,830 tons of supplies and equipment 295 Jeeps and 48 quarter ton trailers. The total maneuver casualties were two dead and 48 minor injuries . 26 Afterwards, the entire operation was reviewed from start to finish at Camp Mackall by commanders and the division staff. MG Joseph Swing submitted his final report on the Knollwood Maneuver to LTG Leslie McNair and impatiently waited for a War Department decision. On 16 December 1943, LTG McNair replied to MG Swing. McNair’s message in part read: “…The successful performance of your division has convinced me that we were wrong, and I shall now recommend that we continue our present schedule of activating, training and committing airborne divisions. ” 27

26 Ellis, The Airborne Command and Center Study, 26.

27 Flanagan, Airborne, 103.

The Knollwood Maneuver convinced General Marshall and LTG McNair to retain the airborne divisions. The successful execution of all missions by the 11th Airborne Division validated the concepts in Training Circular No. 113 concerning employment and support of airborne forces. As a result, significant portions of TC 113 were included verbatim in War Department Field Manual(FM) 71-30, Employment of Airborne Forces, dated 3 July 1947 and War Department Field Manual 1-30, Tactical Doctrine of Troop Carrier Aviation, dated 12 August 1947. FM 1-30 became the “Bible” for troop carrier operations in support of airborne forces . 28 The Knollwood Maneuver had saved the 11th, 13th, 17th, 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. Camp Mackall and Laurinburg-Maxton Army Air Base would continue to be training centers for airborne forces throughout World War II. Today, Camp Mackall has a similar distinction as the Army’s training center for Special Forces, Civil Affairs, and Psychological Operations soldiers.

Watch the video: TWC Operation LADBROKE 28 07 18